..Holds retreat April 26
..Review to be done piecemeal
ABUJA—THERE is palpable anxiety as the National Assembly has failed to fulfill its promise of presenting to Nigerians a new constitution which it said would be ready between February and March this year.
However, the two chambers are expected to hold a joint retreat on April 26 to put finishing touches to the ongoing amendment of the 1999 Constitution.
Besides, Nigerians should not expect to see a new constitution in one full swoop as the ad-hoc committee on constitution amendment has said that the review would be done piecemeal to avoid the 7th Assembly’s experience, where the amendment was concluded and former President Goodluck Jonathan refused to assent to it because of some contentious sections.
Recall that at the working session/retreat of the House Committee on Constitution Review in Abeokuta, Ogun State, in December last year, Chairman of the House Ad-hoc Committee on Constitution Review, Yussuff Lasun, had assured that a new constitution would be ready between February and March this year.
Lasun, who is also Deputy Speaker of the House, had explained that the decision to conclude the alteration on time was to give the Presidency ample time to go through it for assent.
He also said to make the constitution amendment process more flexible and practicable, the 4th Alteration Bill had been segmented into 14 bills, while the House was considering over 30 bills referred to the committee by the 8th Assembly.
He said: “It pleases me to inform you that the committee has been working tirelessly to ensure that the Fourth Alteration Bill is given speedy passage and subsequent assent by the President.
“We will round off our work between February and March 2017, to give the President ample time to go through the amendment for his assent.
“In order to make the amendment process more flexible and practicable, the 4th Alteration Bill has been segmented into 14 Bills and we are currently considering over 30 bills referred to the committee by the 8th Assembly.
“Having considered the reasons the Alteration Bill in the 7th Assembly was declined by the President, we have decided that the process should commence de-novo and fast-tracked to ensure a timely passage of the bills.”
Holds retreat April 26
Vanguard reliably gathered that the alteration will not be ready by the end of April as the joint committee of the two chambers is expected to meet on April 26, the day the National Assembly will resume plenary after the Easter break.
It was further gathered that the House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee met about four days ago with Lasun and the retreat initially slated for Edo State will no longer hold, although no reason had been given for the change of venue.
Speaking to Vanguard, Chief Press Secretary to the Deputy Speaker, Wole Oladimeji, explained that after the retreat on April 26, members will be expected to go to their constituencies for public hearing to collate views from their constituents and it will be submitted to the committee to work on to produce a clean copy.
He said: “At the meeting of the Special Ad-hoc Committee on the review of the 1999 constitution, the chairman of the committee, Sulaimon Lasun Yussuff, told members of the committee that they are almost at the final stage of the exercise and that they should, therefore, be more serious with the amendment process.
“The meeting concluded that a joint retreat with the Senate Committee on the review would hold by April 26. After the retreat, members would go to their various constituencies to collate views of the public on the exercise.
“Therefore, the 4th Alteration Bill and some other referrals would be concluded for passage as soon as the report is ready. Both the committee and consultants are working hard to ensure speedy passage of the report.”
Senate has finished work on review since Dec
Also explaining the position of the alteration, the Special Adviser to the Deputy Senate President, Uche Anichukwu, said the Senate presented its own update on the amendment before proceeding on Easter break, adding that the Senate had since December finished work on the review.
He also said experts hired by the two chambers had met and harmonised their positions and that the Senate and House committees will soon meet for the adoption of the harmonised version.
Vanguard further gathered that after the harmonisation by the committees, it would be sent to the committee of the whole for final voting on some of the amendments.
Some contemporary issues for constitutional review are control over natural and fiscal resources within the federal structure as balance of power is said to be too heavily tilted in favour of the central government.
The issue of local government creation and the constitutional conflict it has generated in the operations of the 1999 constitution is also another area that will be given attention.
The Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who is chairman of the Senate Ad-hoc Committee on the constitution review recently in a statement issued by his Special Adviser, Media, said the amendment would be concluded in earnest to further reform the nation’s electoral system.
He also said the alteration would also reposition the local government system, devolve more powers to the states, and reform the judicial system.
Ekweremadu said experts working with the House of Representatives and the Senate Committees on the Constitution amendment project had already harmonised the positions of the two committees, ahead of their joint retreat to vote and adopt the proposals before presenting them to both chambers of the National Assembly for approval and subsequently to the state assemblies for ratification.
Ekweremadu said: “The idea is for every pre-election matter to be filed not later than 14 days from the date of the occurrence of the event, decision or action being complained of in the suit.
“We are also looking at ensuring that judgment in every pre-election matter is delivered in writing within 180 days from the date of filing of the suit, while the appeal from a decision in a pre-election matter shall be filed within 14days from the date of delivery of the judgment that is being appealed. An appeal from a decision of a Court in a pre-election matter shall be heard and disposed of within 60 days from the date of filing of the appeal.
“Again, we seek to alter the Section to provide that where a preliminary objection or any other interlocutory issue touching on the jurisdiction of the tribunal or court or on the competence of the petition itself is raised by a party, the tribunal or court shall suspend ruling thereon and deliver same at the stage of final judgment. This is to ensure that no court stays proceedings on account of an interlocutory issue.”
He also explained that Sections 134(4) and (5), 179 (4) and (5) as well as Section 225 of the 1999 Constitution were proposed for amendment to extend the time for conducting presidential and Governorship re-run elections from seven to 21 days to allow the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) adequate time to prepare.
Ekweremadu said the proposed amendments will also empower INEC to de-register political parties, which breach registration requirements or those which fail to win at least one of presidential, governorship, local government chairmanship elections or a seat in the National or State Assembly elections.
On the nation’s federalism, Ekweremadu stated that there were plans to amend the Second Schedule, Part I of the Constitution, to restructure the legislative lists and ensure proper devolution of powers to allow states the needed leverage and room to take initiatives for competitive development.
He said Pensions, Prisons, Railways, Stamp Duties, and Wages would be moved from the Exclusive Legislative List, while Arbitration, Environment, Healthcare, Housing, Prisons, Railways, Road Safety, Land and Agriculture, Youths, Public Complaints, and Aviation would be added to them to constitute the Concurrent List.
On Judicial reforms, he said the National Assembly proposing, among others, amendments to Section 233 of the Constitution to provide for the disposal of applications for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court by three Justices sitting in chambers, if they believed an oral hearing of the application was not required.
Also up for amendment is Paragraph Twelve, Third Schedule dealing with the Federal Judicial Service Commission. Senator Ekweremadu said the proposal here was to alter the composition of the commission by removing the Attorney-General of the Federation from its membership, while the next most senior Justice of the Supreme Court would become the deputy chairman of the commission.
Also, membership of the Nigerian Bar Association in the commission is to be increased from two to four, while the tenure of members of the commission would become non-renewable.